Review: The Counselor – Cormac McCarthy breaks bad
I’m a big fan of both director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) and writer Cormac McCarthy (The Road), so I was very excited when I heard that Scott was directing McCarthy’s first original screenplay, The Counselor. Although the film didn’t turn out to be quite the masterpiece I was expecting, it’s still better than your average crime-thriller, with some wild and unexpected eroticism thrown in to boot.
If you are not familiar with Cormac McCarthy’s work then going into this film you need to understand that that even though he is deservedly considered one of America’s greatest writers, he is also known for his eccentricities. The author is noted for ignoring standard punctuation conventions and leaving what most would consider important plot details open-ended — allowing the reader to fill in the blanks. His script for The Counselor is in keeping with his signature quirkiness.
This deceptively simple story involves an attorney (Michael Fassbender) who “breaks bad” and finds himself neck-deep in the South Texas drug smuggling racket while trying to financially impress his fiancée, Laura (Penélope Cruz), and start a night club with his partner, Reiner (Javier Bardem), who is also in on the drug trafficking business with an ultra-violent Mexican cartel.
Also in the mix of this story’s unsavory characters you’ll find Reiner’s nymphomaniacal girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), and Westray (Brad Pitt), a drug-trafficking middleman who knows he should have exited this dangerous game long ago. Of course, things inevitably go bad and when $20-million in drugs goes missing, the Counselor scrambles to save himself and Laura from the sadistic drug lords.
We never learn how the Counselor got involved in this mess in the first place, or what his actual involvement consists of, other than he’s the one blamed when things go awry. The plot is all pretty convoluted and sometimes nonsensical, so if you are detail oriented you should plan on some head scratching as you exit the theater.
On the other hand the dialogue in McCarthy’s The Counselor script contains some of the most profound lines and discussions that you are likely to hear in a film. I could easily sit through this movie again just to try and obtain a better grasp on the philosophical ideas presented by its characters. The words easily win over the action and plot in this movie and it’s too bad there wasn’t a better mesh of all three components.
There are also some beautiful women in this film and a couple of tantalizing sex scenes that are sure to be talked about for years to come. It would be easy to say that these sequences are gratuitous, but one of the themes in this film is that sex is the ultimate motivator — at least it is for each of the major characters – so maybe you don’t have to feel too guilty for enjoying those parts.
There are very good performances in this film and this the second time that Bardem (No Country for Old Men) and Cruz (All the Pretty Horses) have tackled Cormac McCarthy’s material. But the standout in The Counselor is Cameron Diaz as the femme fatale, Malkina, with her cheetah pets and spotted body tattoos, she is convincingly smart, savage, slutty and sexy – all at the same time. This is probably the best, boldest and most serious work of her career.
The Counselor also has cameo performances by a weary looking Rosie Perez, as an imprisoned client of the Counselor; Dean Norris in a new turn as a drug buyer (vice his portrayal as a DEA Agent in Breaking Bad); Ruben Blades as an enlightened cartel kingpin; and John Leguizamo as a cartel middleman who looks at the shipping of dead bodies as business as usual.
This film certainly has some problems, but because many of its parts are better than its whole, and because McCarthy’s dialogue is so thought-provoking, I’m willing to overrule any objections and give The Counselor an overall pass. Grade: 6.5/10
Photos © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox